Editor’s Note: In preparation for her mission in Guatemala, Missioner Becky Kreidler reflects on the generosity of a stranger she encountered while serving at the Father McKenna Center.
Each week during Formation, I served at the Father McKenna Center, a social service agency supporting men struggling with homelessness and families dealing with food insecurity. One day, after serving lunch at the center, I went and sat down at a table to eat. As men finished their lunches, they began to leave the center for the day, leaving just one other man and myself sitting a few seats apart. After a minute or two, I broke the silence between us, when I noticed his necklace, which was composed of white beads and three elephant pendants. I told him that I loved his necklace and thought it was beautifully unique. He looked up from his plate, seeming surprised that I was talking to him, and started telling me about the great wisdom and intellect that elephants symbolize and as well as stories of Ganesha, an elephant-headed Hindu god.
As I listened to him talk, I was captivated by all he was sharing with me. Then, completely catching me off guard, he said, “You like it so much, you should have it.” Before I could say anything, he began to unclasp the necklace. I protested, assuring him that yes, I think it’s beautiful, but I could never accept such a generous gift. After all, it was his and I wanted him to keep it. He smiled, shook his head, and said “it is yours.” I was shocked and overcome with the profound generosity of a man I just met, and I thanked him for such a kind gift. He continued telling me about his life and the places he wants to travel to. He shared with me that his name is Will and, soon after, he left the center for the day.
As I finished my lunch and headed home, I found myself reaching into my pocket to run my hands across the beads of the necklace, still amazed at the selflessness of this man I had just met. I was struck by how overwhelmingly beautiful this simple gesture was, and I felt some guilt, imagining that this piece of jewelry meant more to Will than it did to me. As I reflected more on the gift bestowed upon me, I called to mind what Henri Nouwen discussed in his book Life of the Beloved. He wrote, “The real question is not ‘what can we offer each other?’ but ‘who can we be for each other?’” After all, it is not so much about what Will did, but who He is. He was Jesus to me: someone who so freely gave me a gift that I did nothing to earn. I also felt the presence of St. Francis in him: someone so at peace with himself and with God that his happiness was not determined by his possessions, as he freely gave them away.
I have had many encounters in my life with strangers where Christ truly captures my attention. Yet, I think it is often easier for me to see Christ in my comfort zone: among people who look like me, live in the same part of the city as me, and value the same things as me. I rarely venture out of my comfort zone and allow Christ to be present to me in unexpected places.
In stepping into mission, this is all changing. Through my time in Formation and the encounters at the McKenna Center, my perspective began to shift, helping me to see the world from the perspective of people experiencing poverty, marginalization, and homelessness. While our society continues to demonize and dehumanize people who are experiencing homelessness as “criminal,” “lazy,” and “worthless,” among other adjectives, my time at the McKenna Center chipped away at those barriers. It’s among the men experiencing homelessness that I experienced some of the most compassionate and faith-filled people I’ve ever met. It’s among these men, like Will, that I saw the face of Christ in someone who freely gives of himself to love a stranger.
Question for reflection: How are you called to venture out of your comfort zone to see Christ in the face of a stranger?